AUSTIN, Texas – In a state that once was its own nation, a Republican governor who talked about secession without completely dismissing the idea has Democratic lawmakers in an uproar.
Gov. Rick Perry, in comments following an anti-tax "tea party" Wednesday, never did advocate Texas breaking away from the United States but suggested that Texans might at some point get so fed up they would want to leave the union.
That was enough to feed opinions for and against secession on Web sites, cable TV and talk radio across the nation.
At the Texas Capitol on Thursday, Rep. Jim Dunnam of Waco, joined by several fellow Texas House Democrats, said some people associate talk of secession with racial division and the Civil War and that Perry should disavow any notion of seceding.
"Talk of secession is an attack on our country. It can be nothing else. It is the ultimate anti-American statement," Dunnam said at a news conference.
State Sen. Rodney Ellis, a Houston Democrat, said that by not rejecting the possibility of secession out of hand, Perry "is taking a step down a very dangerous and divisive path encouraged by the fringe of Texas politics."
The Democrats are proposing a House resolution expressing "complete and total disagreement with any fringe element advocating the 'secession' of Texas or any other state from our one and indivisible Union."
Perry emphasized Thursday that he is not advocating secession but understands why Americans may have those feelings because of frustration with Washington, D.C. He said it's fine to express the thought. He offered no apology and did not back away from his earlier comments.
Perry's remarks Wednesday were in response to a question from The Associated Press as he walked away from the Austin rally, where some in the audience had shouted "Secede!" during his speech. The governor said he didn't think Texas should secede despite some chatter about it on the Internet and his name being associated with the idea.
"We've got a great union. There's absolutely no reason to dissolve it. But if Washington continues to thumb their nose at the American people, you know, who knows what might come out of that. But Texas is a very unique place, and we're a pretty independent lot to boot," Perry said Wednesday.
A day later, Perry said he found the fascination with the remark interesting.
"I refer people back to my statement and I got a charge out of it," he said. "I was kind of thinking that maybe the same people that hadn't been reading the Constitution right were reading that article and they got the wrong impression about what I said. Clearly I stated that we have a great union. Texas is part of a great union. And I see no reason for that to change."
Texas was a republic from 1836, when it declared independence from Mexico, to 1845, when it became a U.S. state.
Perry has been speaking out against the federal government lately over federal economic stimulus spending. He's also in a tough race for re-election against a fellow Republican, U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, whom he is trying to portray as a Washington insider.
Perry spokeswoman Allison Castle criticized Dunnam, saying he was "trying to distract from the fact that yesterday thousands of Texans, including many in his own district, expressed their extreme displeasure at Washington's rampant taxation, big spending and bloated government."
Dunnam suggested Perry is positioning himself for his political future.
"We all knew he wanted to be president. I just didn't know it was president of the Republic of Texas," he said to chuckles from onlookers.